UC Constitutional Process Commission: How to achieve a Constitution that unites people?
For several months, twenty UC faculty members from various disciplines ponder on the upcoming process of writing a new constitution. This reflection resulted in a document that aims to guide public discussion and the Constitutional Convention throughout the process.
The mandate for the Commission was as ambitious as it was broad: To contribute from Universidad Católica with critical reflections regarding the process that the country will undergo after the election of a Constitutional Convention.
"It is necessary to highlight the role that universities can play as key institutions in the comprehensive education of young people and the creation of new knowledge. All this as part of its public commitment to serve the country," said University President Ignacio Sánchez.
At the beginning of 2020, Sánchez posed the challenge to lead an interdisciplinary work on this topic to Alejandra Ovalle, a law professor.
The faculty member had already led the first UC Constitutional Process Commission back in 2016, framed in the context of the open town halls convened by the then President, Michelle Bachelet.
She was responsible for bringing together and directing faculty members from various disciplines: arts, communications, urban studies, medicine, and engineering, among others. (Full list of participants at the end of this article).
"The Constitution has a technical dimension that concerns Constitutional Law. But it must also be understood as a fundamental agreement that concerns and summons us all to participate," said Alejandra Ovalle. Hence the decision to form a commission as broad as possible.
"The debate on the new Constitution extends far beyond the purely legal discussion," emphasized Rector Sanchez.
"We must not forget that the current constituent process originated in the midst of one of the most profound crises Chile has experienced in the last few decades.
The decision to move forward on a new Constitution has not only allowed us to channel this crisis institutionally. It has also emerged as one of the main formal spaces for the meeting and building of agreements within our national community", he said.
The Richness of Interdisciplinarity
Twenty faculty members worked for several months in this Commission. They met weekly every Friday for two hours. Although the first meetings were face-to-face, the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to work remotely through Zoom meetings.
"The University President's mandate was quite broad, so everyone started working with a preconceived idea about the approach and nature of the contribution we had to make. Eventually, the Commission's work resulted from being open to dialogue and the respectful exchange of ideas. Gradually we broke down our disciplinary structures and broadened and enriched our perspectives," said Professor Ovalle.
The various participants made presentations based on their disciplines on the Constitution, giving way to group critical reflection and dialogue.
"At the beginning, it was difficult to determine the specific purpose of this Commission. Everyone had their vision. I think the biggest challenge was to ensure that the document was coherent and that all participants were happy," said Rodrigo Mardones, professor at the Institute of Political Science. "The discussion took place in a respectful atmosphere since in commissions of this type people tend to build relationships."
According to the Faculty of Communications professor, Rayen Condeza:
"This experience was a unique learning opportunity, as it allowed us to delve into a complex phenomenon, made up of multiple aspects, not only legal ones. It was a real exercise of respecting the diversity of points of view. An opportunity to learn about the experiences and ways of generating knowledge from each discipline contributes to the constitutional process. An interdisciplinary view is always more than the sum of its parts."
Luis Prato, Arts professor said:
"It was a university experience in its truest definition. We were invited to think about our country, the difficult moment we live, and its future. The constitutional process is seen as an opportunity for change to becoming an inclusive community. A community that welcomes all those who live in this beautiful territory."
He also added: "The experience of sharing and analyzing relevant information through the different points of view of diverse areas of knowledge has allowed us to exercise attentive listening and critical and flexible thinking. I enjoyed the exchange of views on the constitutional process, conducted under the values of an academic meeting and dialogue, based on truth, but also trust and generosity."
According to the Dean of Philosophy, Olof Page, "a conversation of this kind does not always have a predetermined structure. For that reason, participating requires stepping out of one's comfort zone and, at times, venturing to think about things that may usually not fall within our fields of study."
The Importance of the Constitutional Process
The fruit of all this process of dialogue and reflection is the document "Reflections on the process of writing a new Constitution," which was presented last Wednesday, March 31, at an online seminar.
"It was a challenge for all of us to transform this interdisciplinary debate into a reflective document. The result, on the one hand, welcomes a diversity of views but finds transversal coherence thanks to the sharp, critical dialogue, enriched by the participation of each member," said Luis Prato.
The document does not focus on the potential content of the new Constitution but the constitutional process. It highlights issues to which the public discussion and the Convention itself should pay attention while writing the Constitution. Especially at the moment of defining the rules of procedure that will frame its work.
"We are looking into what it means for a constituent process to be oriented from a pluralist and inclusive principles. A process in which dialogue is valued and allowed, as well as deliberation based on respect, the promotion of coexistence and working towards the common good," said Rayén Condeza.
"We think there is a direct relationship between the process of writing the Constitution and its results. So I think it is important to highlight the broad framework that should guide the process. In other words, the collective ideal should be the guiding principle for this process. The text argues that the fundamental charter should be born out of shared convictions, to enable a sense of belonging to our community and mobilizing us towards a common future," said Condeza.
The Constitution as a Symbol
The document begins by highlighting the symbolic dimension of the Constitution.
"The symbolic side is not a simple decoration or the result of chance or an advertising campaign. No. Its symbolism is the consequence of a transversal will to work for our country with courage and generosity. We must understand this constitutional process as an opportunity to lay new foundations for a community where we all feel recognized and have a place. The Constitution must become a symbol of a country where every Chilean man and woman wants to work every day. It must represent a better life for everyone," said Luis Prato.
The document also shows the need for a space to reach a consensus on a shared social and political crisis diagnosis—an agreement on a joint project to guide the definition of constitutional norms.
As professor Olof Page explained, once the Constitutional Convention is working, "the importance of citizen participation will be key. In other words, the link that the Convention must build with the citizens during its operation must ensure - through all possible mechanisms - that their opinions are effectively taken into consideration. At the very least, said opinions should be read or heard by the Convention members. According to him, "the civic friendship as an element that should permeate the atmosphere in which the Convention works" should be stressed.
"For me, a point that seems to be central is the call to see each other and listen. It has been observed that the mechanisms of representation are not sufficient to bring the multiple realities experienced in Chile to the spheres where decisions are made. Listening is a transversal urgency in our society. It means being willing to recognize others in their legitimate dignity and abandon positions of personal interest to build a community based on solidarity. A society that recognizes that a common goal values its differences implies having the genuine will to incorporate those excluded from the current social model. And the only way to achieve this is through sincere listening," said Luis Prato.
The document indicates that not everything we want to include may be in the constitutional text to manage expectations.
"I think a lot about the teenagers and young people for whom this referendum was the very first election in which they got to vote. This process of drafting a new Magna Carta will inadvertently constitute a unique and unrepeatable model of civic education for the new generations," said Rayén Condeza.
This document "is a reflection that aims to reach conventional candidates, but also the whole community," added Alejandra Ovalle. "This is one of the main challenges: that it reaches public opinion and that it is a contribution to the discussion," said Rodrigo Mardones.
According to President Sánchez:
"We hope that this reflection contributes to the development of a political process that is effective in its deliberation and participation. It serves to restore citizens' trust, favor a climate of greater mutual understanding, and culminates in the approval of a new Constitution. One that lays the foundations for the future of our country."
Members of the UC Constitutional Process Commission
- Alejandra Ovalle, professor, Faculty of Law, president of the Commission
- Magdalena Amenábar, Vice President of Communications
- Carlos Amunátegui, professor, Faculty of Law
- Matías Bargsted, professor, Institute of Sociology
- Paula Bedregal, professor, School of Medicine
- Andrés Bernasconi, professor, School of Education
- Rayén Condeza, professor, School of Communications
- Luis Fuentes, Director of the Institute of Urban Studies
- Osvaldo Larrañaga, Director of the School of Government
- Rodrigo Mardones, professor, Institute of Political Science
- Vladimir Marianov, professor, School of Engineering
- Claudia Martínez, professor, Institute of Economics
- Olof Page, Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy
- Valeria Palanza, professor, Institute of Political Science
- Macarena Ponce de León, professor, Institute of History
- Luis Prato, professor, School of Art
- Joaquín Silva, professor, Faculty of Theology
- Sebastián Soto, professor, Faculty of Law
- Sebastián Valenzuela, professor, School of Communications
- Loreto Valenzuela, professor, School of Engineering and College Director.
Read more (in Spanish)